Warner Archive’s burn-on-demand “Invitation to the Dance” makes for a great intro. The 1956 picture is among the most rare of cinematic sub-genres: the dance anthology.
Completely silent, the film is divided into three segments, each showcasing a different style, all starring Kelly, who directed and choreographed this pet project. It’s like the Whitman’s Sampler of hoofing it on the big screen: Don’t like nougat? Try the caramel. Don’t like caramel? Try the coconut. Don’t like coconut? Maybe you’re diabetic.
The most accessible segment, especially for youngest viewers, is the final one, “Sinbad the Sailor,” in which a sailor-suited Kelly and his Mini-Me jump into a copy of “Arabian Nights,” whereupon the film becomes a lively animated cartoon, save for our two storybook invaders. If the piece’s look reminds you of “Tom and Jerry,” it should; William Hanna and Joseph Barbera are responsible for it.
This whole sequence is a marvel of technicality, given everything was hand-drawn back then. Prepare for your kids to double over in laughter when Kelly outsmarts two swordsmen by dancing at impossibly high speeds.
“Circus” is next in the enjoyment department, with sad clowns, trapeze artists and a little melodrama. Although colorful, it’s still a big step down and, therefore, an eventual patience-tester. Between is “Ring Around the Rosy,” most likely to bore. Can’t blame ’em; I was ready to give up then and there.
One and a half outta three ain’t bad. —Rod Lott